Time to flush

We had a bit of a water disaster here in Charleston.  It’s been called Aquapocalypse 2014…that’s probably a good term for the mess that we’ve had, but good news is coming!  It looks like our zone just got cleared to flush our water system (edit:  this just “undid” our area…dang it!).    WV American Water has done a fantastic job (in my opinion) as far as being rightly conservative in issuing the “Do not use” order as well as providing information and getting the systems back on line.  Sure, it would have been nice if our water system hadn’t been polluted, but that wasn’t their fault…it was the chemical company that apparently did not maintain proper safety systems.

Charleston Last Night
Charleston Last Night

So, the plan was to monitor the treatment system to find a point when the dilution of the chemical was at a level the CDC reported was safe…that is less than 1 ppm.  In laymen’s terms, what that means is if we had a million gallons of liquid, 1 gallon would be 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM).  There is much discussion as to whether that is truly a safe level for consumption.  I am concerned of course because the plan means I will be consuming some of that chemical…even in my  “safe” water.  I get that my drinking water is not straight h20 even before all this,  but I wish it could just be MCHM-free again.  That’s not a reality now however so we will proceed to shower in the water that has been declared “safe”.  In our house, we will not be drinking or brushing with it for awhile longer but ultimately, we will have to just “go for it” I guess.  Again, I don’t blame the water company of the officials on the ground for making this decision and all will probably be well…I just want my perfect world to return!

"Safe" water zones
“Safe” water zones…we are in the blue!

So we will drain our hot water tanks and all of the pipes in our house.  We will follow the nicely written directions provided by the water company and we will get back to normal.  I think most people have done really well in handling their situations.  Thursday night when this all started, it was a little wild as initial panic set in but people quickly got their heads on straight.

Water was trucked in from far and wide and distributed all over.  Neighbors checked on neighbors, and friends in safe-water-zones offered the homes and showers to others to make this all a little better than it would have been.  I am proud of my fellow West Virginians and of my state and local government (and maybe even the feds?) for how they handled this situation.  I saw a little more clearly as it was exercised before my eyes, the importance of community and helping others.  I also saw very clearly the benefit of having some extra water and water containers on hand.  I now realize how very much I appreciate having a shower and even more importantly, I realize how much I appreciate other people having showers.  Even so, I am proud to be a Mountaineer, stinky or not, and I am delighted to have such a great community who get down to business when the going gets tough!

4 thoughts on “Time to flush

  1. Just a couple of points…
    This stinks.
    It will continue to stink.
    MCHM has relatively low solubility in water and is less dense than water, therefore anything that was floating on top and washed along the shores that has not evaporated will slowly leach back into the water. Depending on how it has penetrated shorelines it may be a long time to actually remove (dilute) it all. Do not rely on a “sniff” test. Humans are able to smell some chemicals at very low levels (parts per trillion or better), but barely notice others at high levels. I have no idea what human sensitivity is to this compound. Analytical testing is the only sure way to “know.” Know is in quotes because it really only means that at the particular time it was tested, that particular sample was safe. If, for example, water levels rose and more material leached back out of the shoreline, the levels can go back up.
    I would guess that it would be an OK organic solvent, but not a good one. Meaning that it would not be terrible at low levels on skin for a short to moderate period of time. If one sees white spots on skin (especially skin that is backed with a lot of soft or fatty tissue) seek attention. If one has any respiratory difficulty seek attention.
    I haven’t found its boiling point, but I would bet it is lower than water so slow boiling water for a period of time should make it “safer.”

    Do not trust me on any of this, it is all generic, and I do not want to be in your shoes, or the shoes, of anyone that has to define when it is safe for everything.

  2. Disregard what I wrote before, it might be dangerous. The chemical would be flammable, boiling it is potentially dangerous, and doing so inside would only add the chemical to your house.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that humans are pretty sensitive to the odor of the chemical as well, though I would still not trust the sniff test. I have found surprisingly little information about the compound that is frankly a pretty simple compound.

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